Merging the two customs collection districts at the Manila port will make collecting duties and taxes more efficient, while stakeholders will benefit from improved port operations, according to shipping lines and a port operator.
“I think one of the keys that can help… is unification of customs districts. I don’t see why you have two different customs districts one and a half kilometers apart,” global corporate head Christian Gonzalez, International Container Terminal Services, Inc. (ICTSI), said in a panel discussion during The Manila Times Shipping and Logistics Summit on September 30.
Gonzalez was referring to the merger of two Bureau of Customs (BOC) offices in Manila: at the Manila South Harbor and at ICTSI’s Manila International Container Terminal (MICT).
“It’s so much more efficient that way and the collection of duties and taxes goes to the same entity anyway… the BOC then to the Philippine government,” Gonzalez pointed out.
He noted that in the 1970s, the two-collection district setup “had good logic but it’s time now to review that and see if it still makes sense to have the system that way.”
Asked in an interview on the sidelines if having just one would increase ship calls and facilitate ease of doing business, Gonzalez said, “Yes, for sure, absolutely. There’s a knock-on benefit to that.”
Gonzalez said a merged collection district for Manila, and maybe even for the entire Luzon area, can be located anywhere with the “advances in technology now.”
Association of International Shipping Lines (AISL) general manager Atty. Maximino Cruz, in an email to PortCalls, said the group “strongly supports the plan to have just one Customs Collection District at least initially for Manila.”
Cruz explained that at present, the two collection districts in Manila “are practically abutting each other,” and that their merger will “improve efficiency in port operations, ease and lower the cost of doing business in the Manila terminals.”
Cruz said shipping lines will benefit from the merger because they will need to submit only one manifest to BOC, and will stop making dual vessel calls to South Harbor and MICT. There will also be no need for a special permit to transfer between the two terminals, and for Customs underguarding.
He added that queuing of vessels at a particular port “can be prevented or at least, efficiently managed.”
For the business community and other stakeholders, Cruz said one Manila port collection district “will mean that there will be only one lodgment of goods declaration; and Customs processing will be simplified.”
In addition, Cruz said that “Customs policy in the two terminals will be uniform and consistently enforced.”
He noted that under the present setup, “competition between the two [collection districts in Manila] has led to differences in policy implementation and enforcement of Customs rules and regulations.”
“Moreover, the present setup creates a distortion of the overall port situation in Manila,” he added.
Last April BOC deputy commissioner for Assessment and Operations Coordinating Group Atty. Edward James Dy Buco said the merger of the two Manila districts is being proposed for inclusion in the draft joint administrative order (JAO) regulating shipping charges and lessening or eliminating port congestion.
He explained that with the merger, vessel queuing will be reduced because the ship, whether destined for South Harbor or MICT, can load or unload in either of the two. He, noted, however, that this measure is beyond the powers of the Customs commissioner and requires an order from the President.
Last July, Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said the JAO on shipping charges will be reconstituted into an executive order (EO) to give the proposed policy “more teeth.” The EO is being prepared by three agencies—the departments of trade and industry, transportation, and finance. – Roumina Pablo